Is the New Testament we have today what was originally written down or has it been changed? Did people take out what they didn’t like or add what they did like?
Whenever you check out any document of history (including the Bible) you apply historiography—the principles of determining authenticity. This helps decide if the document was written down by who claimed to write it, and if it has been accurately copied throughout the years. One aspect of a historiography of a document is the bibliographical test.
Bibliographical tests ask questions of the manuscript. A manuscript is a handwritten document as opposed to a printed document. Before the introduction of the printing press, everything had to be copied by hand.
Can you imagine how long it would take to copy the Old Testament which has over one million consonants? Think of all the honest errors—leaving a word out, misspelling a word, transposing letters—let alone the dishonest ones.
So, two questions are asked of the manuscripts. The first question is: What is the timeline from the original to the closest copies? Earlier is better. The closer the copies are to the original, usually the fewer times it has been copied. The fewer times the original has been copied, there’s a lesser chance of human error.
The more I compare the Scriptures to all other literature of antiquity, the greater respect I have for the Word of God. Nothing compares to it.
- Aristotle wrote his poetics around 343 B.C. The closest manuscript is 1100 A.D—1400 years later!
- From the time Caesar wrote the Gallic Wars to the closest manuscript? 1000 years.
- Sophocles? 1400 years.
- Euripides? 1500 years.
- Plato? 1200 years.
When it comes to the New Testament, we get to within 50 years! There is no other book in history that comes close to that.
But the second question is even more important: How many copies do you have? More is better. The more copies you have, the easier it is to reconstruct the original and determine any errors or discrepancies. Let’s say you have twenty manuscripts of the Gospel of John. How do you know what is in the original? With twenty manuscripts you can’t. But if you have three to four hundred, it’s quite easy.
Let’s apply this question to other literature of antiquity and compare them to the Bible. Did you know there are only ten manuscripts of Caesar’s Gallic Wars? Anything you’ve ever been taught comes out of only one of ten manuscripts from over 1,000 years after he wrote them. Plato’s Tetralogies has seven manuscripts. Only 49 copies of Aristotle’s Poetics are in existence.
Many people believe Thucydides is one of the most accurate historians of antiquity. From the time he wrote to the closest manuscript is 1,300 years, and there are only eight copies.
When it comes to the New Testament, we have over 66,000 manuscripts!
The closest book in all history to the New Testament is Homer’s The Iliad with around 1,900 copies. That’s a difference of more than 64,000 manuscripts!
It doesn’t take much to realize the New Testament obliterates all other literature of antiquity in terms of number of manuscripts and timeline to the original. You can hold the New Testament in your hand and say with confidence, “What I have is what was written down, and it has not been changed.”
—based on Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World by Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell
How To Use This Video Study
This amazing evidence for the reliability of the Bible and much more can be found in the new Evidence that Demands a Verdict video curriculum, taught by Josh and Sean McDowell. It’s an ideal resource for a church to teach foundational beliefs to their congregation. God never intended our faith to be a blind faith, but rather an intelligent faith based on evidence. The video sessions and study guide have been specifically created to help Christians know what they believe, why it is true, and how they can communicate biblical truth to a skeptical world. Make it a key part of your new members’ or believers’ classes and small group strategies.